New Microsoft Stores? Not With the Same Old Products

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For Microsoft Stores, success hasn’t been as simple as following in Apple’s footsteps.

The slick retail stores, of which there are eight across the United States, aren’t turning a profit, and according to Business Insider, Microsoft is in the midst of a heated internal debate on whether to open more locations. Microsoft Chief Executive Steve Ballmer reportedly likes the idea of matching or even surpassing Apple’s 300 retail locations — which may soon include an outpost in Moscow — but for now, the company is holding back.

I like the idea of a Microsoft Store. Even if the stores aren’t profitable, they provide a showcase for the company’s products, and allow Microsoft to put on display what it thinks are the best computers, phones and games.

But as it stands, Microsoft doesn’t have a whole lot to show. Windows 7 is a year and a half old, and on the surface it looks rather similar to Windows Vista. The Xbox 360 turned 5 years old in November. The Zune is pretty much dead. If Microsoft Stores are to draw a crowd, they need products that can do the same.

The company’s getting there. Kinect has been a huge success, and it’s exactly the kind of product that’s best seen in person. Windows Phone 7 deserves a showcase as well, even if the current batch of the hardware is mostly six months old.

The real showstopper, however, will be Windows 8. Rumors suggest that the OS will unify design elements from other Microsoft products, include forward-thinking features like file syncing across multiple computers and, most importantly, support tablets through an alternate user interface. It could be Microsoft’s most important OS since Windows 3.0.

Windows 8 is expected some time next year. Even if Microsoft doesn’t need a big retail presence now, it’ll certainly want it then.

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